Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Reflecting on the #ashtag

Ash Wednesday, 4pm. Only one person so far has drawn my attention to the fact I have a "dirty mark on my head" - testament to the fact we live in a very Catholic town, if ever there was one! Walking round with a pre-schooler and a baby who are also wearing ashes probably helps, too - it looks rather less accidental when there are lots of you ;-) .

Today's Gospel, from Matthew 6, raised a lot of questions in my mind in relation to the ashes. We're not supposed to "make a scene", to publicise the fact that we're fasting; we're supposed to do these things "in secret"... but then we walk round with ashes on our heads, which is, well, kind of visible...

When I lived in France, the general practice (at least in our area) was to sprinkle ashes over our heads, getting around the issue. I suspect the reasoning behind the method relates to the French focus on laicité, notably the fact that public service workers (such as teachers) are not permitted to display outward signs of their religion, like crucifixes, and ashes would be a Bit Of A Problem (BOAP).

Over the last few weeks, I've been thinking more about Matthew 6 and about the positive implications of walking around with ashes on our foreheads one day a year. So, without further ado:

  • The opportunity for evangelisation: People are inclined to stop and let you know about your "dirty mark". Often, they will ask questions, giving us a great opportunity to share our faith.
  • Humility: Yes, it's a bit of an odd thing to do, in a society which values conformity. People may think we look a bit silly - but it's a great reminder that what people think of us is not important. We are children of God, our duty is to be pleasing to Him.The ashes are also an important reminder of our mortality - from dust we were created, to dust we will return.
  • Community: for one day in the year, "spot the Catholic" becomes so much easier! There's a beautiful feeling of fellowship when you spot another person wearing their ashes in the street, you exchange glances, smile at each other...
  • Profession of faith: we belong to God; we are marked out as sons and daughters of the Most High. Every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection, I am reminded of that fact. The ashes are a sign to us, more than to others.
  • A gentle nudge to others: hey! It's Lent! That's what all the pancakes were for yesterday!   

Since that (conveniently) makes five, I'm linking up with Ashley at  The Big White Farmhouse for Five Favourites!